Day 6: Khardung La to Nubra Valley
I stood at the top, with eyes wide open and whispered ‘WOW’. I turned 360 and uttered those words which seemed magical at the moment three more times. There was snow all around me and the board in front read “Border roads organization welcomes you to the top of the world – Mighty Khardung La”. The ascent to which was steeper than expected, from 11,500 ft at Leh to 17,582 ft. and gave me a tiny headache. But, apart from that, it was quite easy to make my way there. I wondered what all the fuss was about, difficulty-wise!
Moving on, my destination for the day was Diskit in Nubra Valley which was just a few hours away. As I began my descent, I was mind blown by the view at hand. The valley which stretched as far as the eyes could see was painted with snow, sparing a few patches and the road trailing it’s way to the end of the frame. And as if this wasn’t captivating enough, the clear blue sky transformed into a dramatic dark and dusky background. I stopped my bike ever so often to gaze at the wonder I beheld. I made my way to the army wet canteen at South Pullu close to where I saw a herd of yaks grazing the frozen Himalayan grass and a mountain dog sipping water from the ice-cold stream. The wet canteen had a limited menu but served an amazing aloo paratha to a very hungry stomach which got me saying “Man, that hit the spot!”. My small headache vanished along with my hunger and I got back on Ebony and on the road.
The clouds that came in after Khardung La, had no intentions of leaving. And as it goes in the mountains, “if the sun is down the cold comes out to play”. The winds were strong and the temperature dropped further. In my discussion with one of the soldiers at the canteen, I remembered him saying that it was -10° C that day. Maybe it was or maybe it was just a few degrees below zero. My shivers though seemed to agree more with the soldiers’ estimations than my own. By then I’d begun to enjoy the gloom, for it made everything more beautiful and let me take some amazing pictures, of the road, the mountains and ponds.
Soon enough I reached Diskit, which looked abandoned. I swear I could see tumbleweeds rolling on the roads! Or maybe I’m being overly dramatic! Among the few hotels open, I found one and put my head to the pillow.
Day 7: Nubra Valley to Hunder
The Northernmost point in India is the Indira Col (in geomorphology, a Col is the lowest point on a mountain ridge between two peaks, basically a gap) which falls in the Siachen glacier, eastern Karakoram range. It is the border between India, Pakistan and China. The northernmost point accessible by road is RD0 (Read Dead 0), the LoC with POK after the last village on the road, Thang. That’s where I had planned to reach and return by the end of the day to Hunder. Saji, Arun, Geraldine and a new friend, Jae (who we’d met on day 5 in our hostel in Leh) were on the way from Leh to join me there for the night and the day ride to Pangong the next day.
Before I started my ride to Thang, I dropped down to Diskit Gompa. Pressed with time I could only admire it from far. But, I did get to visit the Maitreya Buddha statue, built to a height of 106 ft and painted gold, like most Buddha statues. This statue though was absolutely magnificent and overlooked the river Shyok. I spent a good hour in admiration of it!
I topped up my fuel at Diskit, the only filling station on that road and thumped my way to the top of India. It was a bright sunny day and the view was spectacular (as usual!) but a bit dangerous due to a lot of blind turns and ups and downs. I stopped at an army wet canteen in Chulungkha for some Samosas (one of the best I’ve had!) and momos. I sped fast Bogdong, Chalunka and Turtuk to reach Thyakshi where the road to Thang was barricaded by the police.
The recent abrogation of article 370 in Kashmir had escalated the tension with Pakistan and hence the always accessible RD0 was blocked off to civilians. I was disappointed that I couldn’t reach the very top, but hey! I did reach the northernmost point of India at that time! The cop showed me to a trail leading to a village on the top of the mountain which gave me a view of what I missed – Thang!
The sun, compassionless towards my excitement decided to disappear behind the mountains casting darkness over the valley. It was time to throttle back to Hunder before it got too cold! Fortunately, I could do it quite easily. Hunder is a village known for its sand dunes and the double humpback camels native to the area.
The driver Abdul who drove Saji, Arun, Geraldine and Jae took us to a hotel he knew, a Habib Guesthouse. We had a fantastic dinner which was Roti with Mattar Paneer (peas – cottage cheese curry) followed by 5 hours of conversation with a certain Mr. Glen Livet as the moderator to end the eventful day.